Why I’m Going to Standing Rock for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, I’m going to Standing Rock with a delegation of almost 50 people from across the U.S. to cook and serve dinner for 500 of the protectors as a small way to give back to Native Americans on our national day of thanks. Our dinner is called the Wopila Feast, the Lakota word for a broad statement of thanks.

Native Americans saved the lives of newly arrived Europeans in what is now Massachusetts, by sharing their harvest in the winter of 1620. The Wampanoag, who had lived in the region for some 12,000 years, taught the settlers to grow native crops. The Wampanoag were not the only tribe to be generous. In the earliest days, many tribes throughout the Americas helped new settlers survive.  

The foods the natives shared with settlers were not just growing wild, they were cultivated over many generations by native people who had a deep connection to the land. Today, many of the foods in our diet were first cultivated by Native Americans, including many on the traditional Thanksgiving table: potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beans, corn, squash, pumpkin, and cranberry. The turkey many enjoy on Thanksgiving Day was first domesticated by Native Americans.

The idyllic traditional story of the first Thanksgiving in which the settlers shared with the native people is largely a myth. Tragically and shamefully, what followed the European arrival was 500 years of genocide and betrayal of Native Americans. To this day, treaties are being broken for the benefit of white expansionism.

In North Dakota, survivors of the genocide are taking a stand against the construction of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, planned to carry highly flammable crude oil under the Missouri River, endangering the drinking water of millions downstream and threatening sacred burial grounds. If successful in eventually reaching refineries on the Gulf and East coasts, the project will become the source of carbon emissions equivalent to nearly 30 coal plants every year for the next 20 to 30 years.

The Standing Rock Sioux, joined by native people belonging to some 300 tribes from across the Americas, are camped along the Missouri River to protect their water, land and way of life. The natives call themselves protectors, and are risking their own safety and comfort to nonviolently stand up to corporate control and the militarism of armed police in riot gear. The protectors say they are working for a healthy future for all of our children and grandchildren, including those of the pipeline workers and police officers.  

Addicted to oil and the wasteful lifestyle it supports, our civilization is racing blindly toward our own extinction by causing climate chaos and toxicity. Yet again, Native Americans are leading us toward our survival.

Native leader Dallas Goldtooth explains, "The best part of the work we do is that it’s not what we’re fighting against but what we’re fighting for. We advocate for localized, small-scale renewable energy production. The same with food production, localized and sustainable.”

I’m going to Standing Rock because I share this vision for our future. A localized economy will not only decrease the power of large corporations and cut down on the carbons of long-distance shipping, but will also make our communities more resilient and self-reliant as we face the threats of climate change. At the same time, decentralizing our economy spreads business ownership and wealth more broadly and creates meaningful local jobs, building a more just and sustainable economy.

I’m going to Standing Rock to help begin a new era in American history where we truly express our democracy by defending the rights of indigenous people, black and brown people, all people, as well as the rights of nature. As our country suffers divisions following the elections, now is an important time to stand together and become the America we are meant to be.

I’m going to Standing Rock because the native people have a deep connection to nature. In observing their leadership, I recognize the values needed to move our country forward: respect for Mother Earth and all species, cooperation, generosity, nonviolence, humility and love.

I’m going to Standing Rock to give back to Native Americans for cultivating the many foods I enjoy and for helping the early settlers survive, including my own ancestors in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. I’m going to Standing Rock because I want to tell the story of their courage and love of the land and inspire other communities to defend our watersheds; to stop fracking, drilling, pipelines, refineries and all fossil fuel infrastructure that is leading toward the end of life on Earth as we know it. Standing Rock is a call to all of us to protect what we love.

A Lakota prophecy speaks of a black snake crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation. The black snake is finally here, in the form of an oil pipeline inching toward the Missouri River. The black snake is part of a larger monster driven by greed, destroying all of life in its path and even devouring the children of tomorrow.

I'm going to Standing Rock because I hear my heart saying, Follow the Indians: they know the way.

Help build an all-weather straw bale community center for tribal meetings at Standing Rock, or contribute funds for the Wopila Feast.


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